Baby Reading in 1900 versus Today

Back to the future of reading, yesterday's solutions for today's children.

Posted May 04, 2011

Natural Education
Baby reading has changed in 100 years! In this post you can see the power of the computer and its impact upon 21st century baby/toddler reading. Today, the same flash method successfully used in 1914 has been adapted to the computer, making teaching your baby to read words as easy as the push of a button!

In 1914 Winifred Stoner read aloud to her 16-month-old and created large word cards and word games to teach her toddler to read. All of Stoner's friends who tried her method successfully taught their own children to read before age three. And yes, it's "real reading" using phonics. Then Ms. Stoner wrote a very fascinating book showing parents of babies how to teach reading.

Today's baby/toddler readers recognize words like clap, drink, and eat then move to couplets (pink pig), short sentences, and finally, engaging little stories--many by age 2 or age 3. Sometimes within a few months they intuit phonics by contrasting patterns such as pink pig, pig wig, two pigs, and two wigs.

According to parents who have tried it, your baby will love being held in your lap in front of the computer screen during short joint-media engagements with pictures and words. When she looks at the picture-word card for Mom, it has a photo of you. Imagine how much fun it is to see her foot, her cat, your hair, and the ice cream she had last night as you flash through a set of words and pictures made with the aid of your cell-phone camera! These engagements take advantage of the baby's right brain capacity for perceiving patterns, and of baby's recognition memory and novelty preference. (Novelty preference means that she loves seeing the cat word card pop up with photos of different cats.) The engagements are in short durations and feel like a game based on repetition and imitation. The cardinal rules--always making it fun, stopping when the baby isn't interested, and never pushing--make it sensible and safe for your baby. And even though the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends against television viewing under age two, reading with Dad at the computer isn't the same as watching Barney alone. These engagements and interactions with you meet AAP's requirements for screen media where content and joint-media sessions are just as important as time spent.

Picture-Word Cards: 1914 and Today

"Reading around the room" looked a little different in 1914 than it looks today. Here's the 1914 version:

When Winifred was a tiny baby I carried her about the room and pointed out everything to her. I would say "chair" as I pointed to a chair and "table" while pointing to the table. Then I stood before the pictures and spoke of each picture, the color of a robe or some other attractive point, and in passing before the bits of sculpture I would call each by its proper name. I also read to Winifred from illustrated books which I held so she could see the pictures and the reading matter, and either the sound of my voice or the pictures amused her, since she would be very good while I was so engaged. (page 18)

Every baby longs for words to express his thoughts, and he should be shown how to use these tools of thought as early as possible. All children love to repeat the words they know, and also enjoy building up words into stories like those of "Dame Wiggins of Lee," "The House That Jack Built," and "Old Mother Hubbard." (page 30) Winifred Stoner, Natural Education, 1914

Here's today's version of baby reading:

Sitting in your lap, your baby delights in going through a quick word flash and word concept-building game. You follow these rules:

Make it a game.
Stop when it's not fun.
Play in short durations. (five minutes once or twice a day)
Be enthusiastic.
Keep it balanced with book reading, physical play, and art activities.

What Does Multi-Sensory Word Flash Look Like?

YouTube video
Want to see what multi-sensory word flash looks like yourself? Have a look:

Is there anything that you want to change? A software-driven baby learning system can put you in charge. You can choose the words you want, their order, the pictures, and even their speed. You can adjust the left to right tracker. You can show different photos showing the cats, cars, dogs, or flowers in your neighborhood. Never mind creating cards manually the Winifred Stoner way; the computer does it easily and effortlessly, and you can print them out or show them on the screen. Soon your baby will delight in creating her own little stories with pictures and she can read them:

My Little Cat, Buzz

My little cat is in the box.
My little cat is in the basket.
My little cat is in the flower pot.
My little cat is up in the tree!
I love Buzz.

The computer even enables you to connect to forums of other parents who are successfully teaching their babies to read and share parent-rated content. You choose the version of "Old MacDonald Had a Farm" which is recommended by other parents or with words and music that you like--for free!

What's the Big Advantage in the 21st Century?

The computer advantage is in keeping your child's attention. It not only taps into baby's natural capacity for recognition memory, but her zest for novelty preference and multi-sensory presentation. (Forget those same-old, same-old picture cards.) She loves how you have personalized the experience, not only by providing pictures from her own world, but by cuddling with her, giggling, and smiling at just the right time--"That's Buzz!"--and holding her close.

What Do the 1914 and 2011 Lessons Have in Common?

Everything. The baby is engaged; the baby longs for words to express thoughts; the baby loves cuddling with you and loves your attention; you love it too. The baby/toddler loves building narratives; you love taking away the worry that your child will be school ready. You love that you are raising a child who loves to read, just like Winifred Stoner!

The research hasn't been done. But one hundred years of time-tested baby reading and thousands of parents with successful baby readers online are powerfully convincing.

Raising Confident Readers
(Dr. Gentry is the author of Raising Confident Readers, How to Teach Your Child to Read and Write--from Baby to Age 7. Available on Follow Dr. Gentry on Facebook and on Twitter.)